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The somber state of Wall Street prompted the Robin Hood Foundation to keep thrift in mind for its annual benefit, held last night at the Jacob K. Javits Center, by relying on reusable goods in all of the decor. Installations made up of donated office supplies, clothing, and food were intended to inspire generosity from the 3,720 guests—many of them executives at banks and hedge funds—and ensure that every aspect of the night help the beneficiaries of the organization.
“In difficult times, that’s when it counts to step up to the plate,” said Laurie Fabiano, Robin Hood’s director of communications, marketing, and events, of the current economic climate. “It factored into our planning in every way, shape, and form. This year was all about making everything count, and the theme of giving 100 percent echoed that in every element of the night.”
Fabiano once again recruited Dan Parise at Live Nation to produce the epic affair—known for its lavish installations, star-studded entertainment lineup, and multimillion-dollar take—and brought back David Stark Design and Production to reinvent the space. Stark upped the ante of last year’s recyclable decor with sculptures made of reusable household items that could be passed along to charity when the party ended.
“I have been thinking a lot about green design,” said Stark, “and my initial exploration of that [throughout 2007] brought me to a lot of reusable materials and items that were already implicitly waste. The natural next step was to find materials we could incorporate into the fund-raising. I wanted the decor elements to have a life beyond the party.”
Those elements included everything from pencils and backpacks to canned corn and bottled water, and their inclusion in the giant structures that filled the cocktail area required ingenuity so as not to compromise their usability. None of the materials could withstand harm from screws or nails, so Stark and Atomic Design Inc. had to think outside the toolbox. The thousands of pencils that made up a giant freestanding pencil sculpture bonded to each other with removable, double-sided tape, and the towering chair made from bottles of Mountain Valley Spring Water required that each bottleneck be clipped into place.
Other structures adorning the cocktail area included a house made of T-shirts and towels, a New York skyline made of canned goods from Krasdale Foods, and another structure wallpapered with alarm clocks and calculators donated by Staples. The scene inside the dark hall somewhat resembled a circus or an oversize urban playground from the landscape of a Tim Burton film.
Each table in the dining room had its own interactive centerpiece, with 800 XO laptops flashing images of flowers, statistics about Robin Hood’s charitable works, and announcements of when the next course was en route. After dinner and the auction, Shakira treated the guests to a live set, and Sheryl Crow, John Legend, Wyclef Jean, and recent American Idol winner David Cook made surprise performances.
Down from last year’s record haul of $71.2 million but significantly higher than any other year, the benefit raised a total of $56.5 million, Robin Hood announced this morning. That doesn't include an estimated $1 million worth of decor items donated to construct Stark’s sculptures.
“One of the challenges when you reach out for donations is that you don’t know what you’re going to get back,” Stark said. “A lot of times it's just the leftovers, but everything we got was great-looking. The whole thing seems rather momentous to me. A donation can become art and then be reused and go to someone who needs it.”